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A  State  Department  of  History  and  Archives 







A  Statu  Department  of  History  and  Archives 







T  2LVB°\ 

Carnegie  Institution 
•f  Washington 


BY    M.    AGNES    BURTON 

Thomas  Witherell  Palmer,  or  as  he  was  more 
familiarly  known,  "Tom  Palmer,"  the  only  son  of 
Thomas  Palmer  and  Mary  A.  Witherell,  was  born  in 
Detroit,  Michigan,  January  25,  1830,  in  a  brick 
building  on  the  southeast  corner  of  Jefferson  avenue 
and  Griswold  street.  His  ancestors,  both  paternal 
and  maternal,  were  among  the  first  New  Englanders 
to  seek  a  home  in  the  west. 

Thomas  Palmer,  the  father  of  Thomas  W.  Palmer, 
was  born  at  Ashford,  Conn.,  February  4,  1789.  When 
eighteen  years  of  age,  in  company  with  an  older 
brother,  Friend,  he  became  an  "itinerant  merchant,  a 
common  vocation  in  New  England  at  that  time. 
They  set  out  with  a  stock  of  general  merchandise  and 
a  span  of  horses,  traveling  through  Western  Canada 
until  they  reached  Maiden.  Here  they  established 
themselves  and  carried  on  a  successful  business  until 
the  War  of  1812,  when  they  were  made  prisoners. 
After  being  held  five  weeks  and  being  unwilling  to 
take  the  oath  of  allegiance  to  Great  Britain,  they 
were  transported  over  the  river  to  Monguagon.  They 
proceeded  to  Detroit  and  were  very  soon  again  made 
prisoners.     This  time  they  were  released  on  parole  and 

Read  by  Mr.  C.  M.  Burton  at  the  Midwinter  Meeting,  Port  Huron.  February  5) 

4  THOMAS    \Y.    PALMER 

returned  to  Connecticut.  Again  they  set  out  with 
merchandise  and  making  their  headquarters  at  Can- 
andaigua,  New  York,  Thomas  departed  for  Canada 
and  Detroit,  arriving  at  the  latter  place  on  June  16. 

From  this  date  Thomas  Palmer  made  Detroit  his 
permanent  residence  and  became  the  western  repre- 
sentative of  the  firm  F.  and  T.  Palmer.  In  1820  he 
built  the  brick  building  on  the  southeast  corner  of 
Jefferson  avenue  and  Griswold  street,  with  a  store  on 
the  first  floor  and  his  home  above.  The  firm  flour- 
ished until  1824  when  the  partnership  was  dissolved 
and  from  that  time  on  Thomas  was  interested  in  var- 
ious projects  of  importance. 

In  1823  he  contracted  in  conjunction  with  David  C. 
McKinstry  and  DeGarmo  Jones  to  build  the  court 
house  for  the  City  of  Detroit.  This  building  was 
to  be  completed  December  1,  1824  and  in  payment  for 
the  work  the  contractors  received  lands  in  the  Ten 
Thousand  Acre  Tract  and  one  hundred  forty-four 
city  lots.  The  larger  share  of  this  property  subse- 
quently came  into  the  possession  of  the  Palmer  family 
through  purchase.  He  had  a  share  in  one  of  the  wharfs 
on  the  river;  took  contracts  for  grading  and  hauling; 
owned  valuable  lands  in  St.  Clair  county,  where  he 
laid  out  the  village  of  Palmer  (later  called  St.  Clair) 
and  operated  a  saw  mill  thereon;  had  a  lumber  yard 
at  the  foot  of  Bates  street,  Detroit;  owned  interests 
in  several  of  the  steamboats  on  the  river  at  various 
times,  and  in  1845  speculated  in  Lake  Superior  mining 

THOMAS   W.    PALMER.  5 

lands.  He  was  intimately  connected  with  the  build- 
ing of  the  First  Baptist  Church,  contributing  money 
and  lumber  for  its  construction  and  was  a  stockholder 
in  the  Association  for  Promoting  Female  Education 
in  Detroit.  In  1819  he  was  one  of  the  trustees  of  the 
town  and  he  served  as  alderman  at  large  several  times. 
He  was  a  jolly,  kind-hearted  man,  weighing  about  250 
pounds  and  was  the  butt  of  many  a  good-natured  joke. 
In  later  years  he  was  in  partnership  with  his  son, 
Thomas  W.  Palmer.  He  died  August  3,  1868  after 
several  years  of  painful  illness. 

Mary  Amy  Witherell,  the  mother  of  Thomas  W. 
Palmer,  was  the  third  daughter  of  Judge  James  Withe- 
rell and  Amy  Hawkins,  and  was  born  in  Fair  Haven, 
Vermont,  October  4,  1795.  Her  father  had,  in  1809, 
been  appointed  one  of  the  judges  of  the  Supreme  court 
of  the  Territory  of  Michigan.  Mrs.  Witherell  and  her 
children  joined  him  in  1810,  but  the  hostilities  of  the 
savages  and  lack  of  comforts  induced  her  to  take  her 
children  and  return  to  Vermont  for  a  visit  in  1811. 

At  Hull's  surrender,  Judge  Witherell,  his  oldest  son, 
James  C.  C,  and  a  son-in-law,  Joseph  Watson,  were 
taken  prisoners  and  sent  to  Kingston,  Canada.  They 
were  soon  paroled  and  joined  their  families  in  Ver- 
mont. After  the  war  Judge  Witherell  returned  to 
Detroit  where  he  continued  in  office  for  twenty  years, 
when  he  became  Secretary  of  the  Territory.  He  died 
January  9,  1838. 

Judge  Witherell's  daughter,  Mary  Amy,  married 
Thomas  Palmer  August  20,  1821.  They  traveled  east 
on  their  wedding  trip  and  returning  on  the  Walk-in- 

6  THOMAS   W.    PALMER. 

the-Water  were  wrecked  near  Buffalo,  November  6, 

Thomas  James  Palmer,  who  in  1850  changed  his 
name  to  Thomas  Witherell  Palmer,  was  the  third  of 
the  four  children  of  Thomas  Palmer  and  Mary  Amy 
Witherell  Palmer,  who  grew  to  maturity.  His  oldest 
sister,  Mary  Amy,  named  from  her  mother,  was  born 
in  Detroit,  in  1826  and  died  November  29,  1854.  On 
June  22,  1848,  she  married  Henry  M.  Roby,  of  the 
firm  of  Hunt  and  Roby,  who  was  a  loved  and  life  long 
friend  of  Thomas  W.'s  and  whose  daughter  Mary  Roby 
Hamilton  was  to  have  been  heiress  to  the  Palmer 
wealth  and  estates,  had  not  death  cut  short  her  career  in 
April  1890.  His  second  sister  Julia,  married  on 
November  2.  1853,  Henry  W.  Hubbard,  who  died  in 
New  York,  April  28,  1871.  Later,  Mrs.  Hubbard 
married  Hugh  Moffat,  January  27,  1879.  She  died 
November  20,  1880.  Sara,  the  youngest  sister,  died 
unmarried  November  22,  1859. 

When  Thomas  W.  was  three  months  old,  the  house 
in  which  he  was  born  burned  to  the  ground.  His 
family  sought  a  temporary  residence  in  a  building 
near  by  but  soon  removed  to  a  house  on  Woodward 
avenue.  This  was  a  "rough  cast  house"  nearly 
opposite  Cliff's  tavern  where  John  R.  street  joins 
Woodward  avenue.  It  was  two  and  a  half  stories 
high,  quite  commodious  and  had  a  garden  extending 
up  to  the  Grand  Circus  Park.  The  Palmers  remained 
here  until  some  time  in  1834  when  they  removed  to 
their  comfortable  residence  just  completed  on  the 
corner  of  Fort  and  Shelby  streets.     Here  they  lived 

THOMAS    W.    PALMER.  / 

nearly  seventeen  years  and  in  1851  moved  to  a  hand- 
some new  home  on  Jefferson  avenue. 

Tom's  first  school  days  were  spent  in  Detroit  where 
his  good-nature  and  mischievousness  quickly  attracted 
many  friends.  One  of  his  early  teachers  was  Ebenezer 
Hurd  Rogers,  named  after  Ebenezer  Hurd,  an  uncle 
of  Tom's— the  husband  of  his  Aunt  Betsy  Witherell. 
In  November  1842,  when  he  was  twelve  years  old  he 
was  sent  to  an  excellent  private  school  for  boys  and 
girls,  conducted  by  the  Rev.  O.  C.  Thompson  in  the 
village  of  Palmer  (St.  Clair).  Here  he  soon  showed  a 
precociousness  which  placed  him  far  in  advance  of 
many  of  the  older  children. 

Under  Mr.  Thompson,  he  prepared  for  the  Uni- 
versity of  Michigan,  studying  Latin,  Greek,  Algebra 
and  the  ordinary  English  branches.  His  essays  written 
during  the  three  years  at  the  Academy  show  unusual 
originality  of  style  and  composition.  Here  he  made 
many  new  friends,  among  them  being  David  Jerome, 
who  later  defeated  him  in  the  nomination  for  governor 
of  Michigan. 

Mr.  Palmer  used  to  tell  amusing  stories  of  Ins  school 
days  at  Palmer.  Once  when  Mr.  Thompson  wanted 
to  have  an  exhibition  of  the  work  done  in  his  school 
he  called  upon  Tom  to  write  a  Latin  salutatory.  He 
says,  "I  didn't  know  what  a  salutatory  was,  but  I 
looked  it  up  in  the  dictionary  and  found  that  it  was  a 
'welcome.'  I  didn't  know  any  more  about  a  Latin 
salutatory  than  a  broncho,  but  I  knew  that  few  of 
those  to  be  in  attendance  were  any  wiser,  witli  the  ex- 
ception of  Mr.  Thompson,  so  I  took  down  my  Latin 

8  THOMAS   W.    PALMER. 

dictionary  and  produced  a  salutatory  which  if  it  had 
been  read  in  the  days  of  Augustus,  would  have  been  the 
hit  of  the  year  and  would  have  convulsed  four  or 
five  Colosseums  with  laughter.  But  it  went  off  in 
good  style,  sounded  very  learned;  everybody  was 
satisfied  and  Mr.  Thompson  gratified." 

Another  amusing  incident  of  his  boyhood,  one  which 
shows  an  early  budding  of  his  business  instinct,  is  told 
in  connection  with  the  excitement  aroused  over  the 
Polk-Clay  election.  Tom's  father  was  an  ardent  Clay 
man.  Tom  Sheldon,  one  of  his  playmates,  was  the 
son  of  a  staunch  Polk  man.  The  boys  bet  a  shilling 
on  the  election,  but  as  the  day  approached  Tom 
Palmer  began  to  hedge,  and  having  no  shilling  to  pay 
his  debt  he  bet  with  Jim  Simpson  against  Clay.  After 
election  Sheldon  came  to  collect  his  debt  and  Tom 
referred  him  to  Jim  who  when  he  learned  of  the  game, 
vowed  he  would  never  pay  Sheldon.  For  years  it  was 
a  standing  joke  between  Sheldon  who  annually  dunned 
Palmer  and  Palmer  who  annually  refused  to  pay  his 
election  bet. 

Tom's  schooldays  at  Palmer  soon  passed  and  in  the 
fall  of  1845  he  was  admitted  into  the  State  University 
at  Ann  Arbor.  Here  he  continued  his  former  studies, 
always  keeping  in  sight  his  early  ambition  to  study 
law  and  by  that  means  to  enter  the  field  of  politics. 
He  was  very  popular  with  his  professors  and  the  Ann 
Arbor  people  with  whom  he  became  acquainted  and 
with  his  college  chums.  In  1847  he  joined  the  Chi  Psi 

Owing  to  ill  health  from  which  he  had  suffered  all 

THOMAS    \Y.    PALMER.  \) 

through  his  college  course  and  to  continual  trouble 
with  his  eyes,  he  was  forced  to  give  up  his  studying 
early  in  1848  and  for  a  time  to  abandon  his  desire  to 
become  a  lawyer.  He  returned  to  Detroit  and  soon 
with  five  of  his  college  chums  decided  to  travel,  paying 
his  way  by  Daguerrean  art.  He  also  made  arrange- 
ments to  consult  an  eye  specialist  while  in  New  York. 

On  October  24,  1848,  David  James,  Cleveland 
Whiting,  Stephen  Tillotson,  James  Witherell,  George 
Kellogg  and  Tom  Palmer  boarded  the  "Potomac" 
bound  for  Brazil  by  way  of  Cadiz.  Tillotson  furnished 
most  of  the  capital  and  the  boys  went  in  debt  for  the 
balance.  Palmer's  letter  to  his  mother  just  before 
sailing  was  full  of  enthusiasm  at  the  prospect  of  the 
trip  and  hope  that  his  eyes  would  recover  in  the  long 
rest  so  that  he  could  study  law  upon  his  return. 

The  voyage  across  the  ocean  was  rough  and  tedious 
and  on  December  1,  1848,  six  weary  boys  set  their 
feet  upon  terra  firma  for  the  first  time  in  thirty-four 
days.  They  landed  at  Cadiz  on  a  bright  warm  day, 
and  in  after  years  Palmer  often  described  the  joy  they 
felt  upon  that  December  day  in  1848.  After  a  three 
weeks  walking  tour  in  Spain  and  Christmas  at  Cadiz, 
they  set  sail  December  30,  for  Rio  Janeiro,  which 
Palmer  described  as  the  "dirtiest  place  on  earth." 

He  then  returned  to  New  Orleans,  landing  there 
May  1,  1849.  His  independent  spirit  prompted  him 
to  stop  there  long  enough  to  work  off  his  debt,  but 
his  longing  for  home  and  the  knowledge  that  he  would 
be  promptly  invited  to  return,  that  his  debts  would  be 
paid  and   a  parental  blessing  bestowed  as  soon  as  his 

10  THOMAS   W.    PALMER 

family  knew  of  his  return  to  his  home  country,  made 
him  weaken.  He  wrote  home  with  the  expected  result 
and  reached  Detroit  early  in  the  summer. 

The  condition  of  his  eyes  still  prevented  close  ap- 
plication or  reading,  and  he  again  abandoned  his  desire 
to  study  law.  In  May  1850,  he  set  out  on  board  the 
steamer  "Michigan,"  and  landing  at  Green  Bay, 
Wisconsin,  very  soon  established  himself  with  Whitney 
and  Company,  forwarding  and  commission  merchants. 
During  his  connection  with  this  company  he  was 
stationed  at  Kaukalin,  Green  Bay  and  Appleton. 
Here  he  saw  plenty  of  opportunities  to  "turn  a  penny" 
and  did  not  fail  to  take  advantage  of  them.  Here  he 
also  had  his  first  political  experience.  In  the  fall  of 
1850,  he  was  elected,  without  seeking  the  honor,  dele- 
gate to  the  Whig  County  convention  to  be  held  Octo- 
ber 22.  He  was  chosen  secretary  of  the  convention 
and  after  transcribing  the  proceedings  of  the  meeting, 
was  appointed  delegate  to  the  Senatorial  Convention 
to  be  held  at  Manitouwoc.  That  honor  he  declined, 
because  he  could  not  conscientiously  neglect  his  busi- 
ness. Here  he  celebrated  his  21st  birthday  January 
25,  1851,  and  on  that  occasion  wrote  a  letter  home  to 
his  brother-in-law  Henry  Roby,  asking  for  advice  as  to 
his  future  career.  This  letter  reveals  a  wisdom  that  is 
surprising  in  a  young  man  of  that  age.  It  shows  him 
still  clinging  to  his  early  ambition  to  study  law  as  a 
means  to  an  end,  but  as  being  rather  inclined  to  build 
a  career  upon  a  mercantile  basis  and  to  study  law  as 
a  side  issue. 

Immediately  following  this  letter  he  set  himself  up 

THOMAS   W.    PALMER  11 

as  a  merchant,  stocking  himself  with  general  goods 
and  speculating  in  flour  and  grains.  He  succeeded 
very  well,  but  was  burned  out  January  19,  1852,  and 
was  able  to  recover  but  a  small  part  of  the  damage 
covered  by  insurance.  He  made  a  plucky  attempt  to 
start  again,  but  in  the  effort  to  recover  his  insurance  he 
saw  a  better  opening,  which  resulted  in  his  establishing 
himself  in  partnership  with  his  father  in  the  insurance 
business  in  Detroit. 

In  Detroit,  in  1853-4,  they  had  an  office  under  the 
Farmer's  and  Mechanic's  Bank,  and  their  business 
card  read,  "Insurance,  Land  and  Tax  Agency,  Thomas 
Palmer  and  Son."  They  were  agents  for  the  Monarch 
Fire  and  Life  Assurance  Company,  Irving  Fire  In- 
surance Company  and  Mohawk  Valley  Fire  Insurance 
Company.  They  also  agreed  to  attend  to  the  purchase 
and  conveyancing  of  farms  and  wild  land  and  city 
property  and  the  payment  of  taxes,  in  Michigan,  Wis- 
consin and  Illinois.  They  investigated  titles  and  pur- 
chased patent  titles  to  bounty  lands  in  Illinois.  Mr. 
Palmer  immediately  took  his  old  place  in  the  society 
of  the  city  and  was  called  by  the  young  men  of  his 
acquaintance  "quite  a  blood." 

In  July  1855,  his  first  effort  in  a  literary  line  was 
printed  in  the  Detroit  Tribune  under  the  signature 
"Jose."  On  October  16,  1855,  he  married  Lizzie  Pitts 
Merrill,  daughter  of  Charles  Merrill,  a  wealthy  lumber 
man  who  owned  and  operated  large  pine  interests  in 
Michigan  and  ran  a  large  mill  at  East  Saginaw.  He 
continued  in  business  with  his  father  until  1860  when 
he  became  bookkeeper  for  the  firm  of  Charles  Merrill 

12  THOMAS    W.    PALMER 

and  Company.  In  1863  he  went  into  partnership 
with  Mr.  Merrill  and  remained  with  the  firm  until 
Mr.  Merrill's  death  in  1872,  after  which  he  took  into 
the  company  as  partner,  J.  A.  Whittier  of  Saginaw. 
Under  the  name  of  C.  Merrill  and  Company,  they 
managed  the  business  for  over  thirty  years,  selling  out 
only  in  1903. 

In  the  summer  of  1856  Palmer  made  several  stump 
speeches  for  Fremont  and  Dayton,  and  in  August 
while  visiting  in  Portland,  Maine,  made  an  address  be- 
fore a  republican  meeting,  upon  which  the  papers  com- 
mented favorably.  In  1860  he  came  near  being  nomi- 
nated alderman  of  the  first  ward,  but  lost  to  N.  P. 

In  1864,  owing  to  Mrs.  Palmer's  ill  health,  they 
took  up  their  residence  on  the  corner  of  Woodward 
avenue  and  Farnsworth  street,  which  at  that  time 
was  looked  upon  as  a  suburban  home.  Here  his 
attention  was  divided  between  his  business  and  the 
management  of  a  miniature  farm.  Upon  the  death  of 
his  father  in  1868,  he  assumed  the  care  and  responsi- 
bility of  all  of  his  mother's  estate — the  lands  on 
Jefferson  avenue  and  a  farm  out  Woodward  avenue 
where  the  present  "Palmer  Park"  is  located.  On 
December  28,  1872  Mr.  Merrill  died,  leaving  his 
daughter  and  Mr.  Palmer  his  heirs. 

The  year  1873  was  the  real  beginning  of  Palmer's 
political  career,  which  extended  over  less  than  twenty 
years.  That  year  he  was  elected  one  of  the  estimators 
at  large  on  the  first  Board  of  Estimates  of  the  City. 
The  most  important  question  which  came  before  them 

THOMAS   W.    PALMER  13 

was  the  buying  of  a  city  park.  In  1876  Mr.  Palmer 
was  a  candidate  for  member  of  Congress  for  the  First 
District,  but  was  beaten  by  Henry  M.  Duffield.  In 
1878  he  declined  to  run  again,  but  upon  the  earnest 
solicitation  of  his  friends  he  accepted  the  nomination 
for  state  senator,  tendered  him  by  acclamation,  and 
won  the  election. 

While  in  the  state  senate  he  introduced  a  bill  to  es- 
tablish an  institution  for  delinquent  girls,  which  was 
passed.  He  presented  a  petition  of  many  citizens  of 
Detroit  for  the  passage  of  a  law  enabling  the  city  to 
issue  bonds  to  the  sum  of  $700,000  for  the  purchase  of 
Belle  Isle  for  a  city  park  and  to  build  a  bridge  over  the 
American  channel  of  the  Detroit  River.  This  bill  was 
acted  upon  and  May  27,  1879,  the  legislature  author- 
ized the  city,  with  the  consent  of  the  estimators,  to 
issue  bonds  and  purchase  the  island.  On  September 
25  of  that  year  the  purchase  was  consummated.  Mr. 
Palmer's  interest  in  the  improvements  of  his  city  is 
seen  in  his  support  of  a  petition  of  Detroit  citizens  for 
a  boulevard  around  the  city,  which  resulted  in  a  pro- 
vision of  the  legislature  May  21,  1879,  for  a  Board  of 
Boulevard  Commissioners.  A  petition  signed  by  wo- 
men and  men  of  Detroit  for  an  amendment  to  the  State 
Constitution  to  the  end  that  women  might  vote  for  the 
election  of  school  officers  was  presented  by  Thomas 
W.  Palmer.  He  was  also  interested  in  petitions  for 
prohibition,  and  during  this  short  period  of  two  years 
he  became  the  champion  of  several  causes  which  he 
continued  to  support  throughout  the  rest  of  his  life. 
In   1879  he  was  chairman  of  the  republican  com- 

14  THOMAS   W.    PALMER 

mittee,  and  made  several  campaign  speeches.  He 
ran  for  nomination  for  governor  of  the  state,  but  was 
defeated  by  his  old  school  friend  of  St.  Clair  Academy, 
David  Jerome.  This  defeat  was  thought  to  have  been 
a  great  disappointment  to  Mr.  Palmer,  but  his  speech 
when  Jerome  was  nominated  showed  that  he  was  a 
good  loser  and  generous  even  in  defeat. 

"One  by  one  the  martyrs  pass  before  you,  but  we 
come  not  as  martyrs,  but  as  apostles  of  the  great  Re- 
publican party.  It  was  said  that  when  the  French 
army  was  retreating  from  Moscow  in  the  march,  while 
the  soldiers  exhausted  by  hunger,  frozen  by  the  cold, 
were  dropping  by  the  wayside,  they  would  rise  as 
Napoleon  passed  by  and  cry  out  'Long  live  the  Em- 
peror' then  fall  back  in  the  snow  as  their  winding 
sheets.  What  was  it  the  French  soldier  cheered  as 
Napoleon  passed  by?  Was  it  the  man  who  crossed 
the  bridge  at  Lodi?  *  *  *  *  They  cheered  because 
they  saw  in  that  cocked  hat  and  gray  surtout,  visions 
of  the  vine-covered  cottage  on  the  banks  of  the  Seine 
or  the  Loire,  the  gray-haired  father,  the  yearning  eyes 
of  the  mother,  the  little  brothers  and  sisters  and  all 
the  delights  of  home. 

"So  do  we,  who  have  been  frozen  out  today  by  the 
votes  of  your  delegates  rise  up  and  cry  out  as  the  great 
Republican  party  passes  by  'Long  live  the  Republican 
Party.'  *  *  *   * 

"Thanking  you  gentlemen  of  the  convention  and 
particularly  my  friends  within  your  ranks  who  have 
been  so  generous  in  their  support  of  me,  I  congratulate 
you  upon  the  result  you  have  achieved.     In  nomi- 

THOMAS   W.    PALMER  15 

nating  Mr.  Jerome  you  have  done  the  very  best  you 
could  under  the  circumstances,  possibly  with  one  ex- 
ception. I  predict  an  overwhelming  majority  for  our 
candidate  in  November." 

On  Decoration  day,  1879,  he  made  an  eloquent  ad- 
dress on  the  Campus  Martius  near  the  Soldiers'  Monu- 
ment. This  was  only  the  beginning  of  many  eloquent 
addresses  by  Michigan's  most  popular  orator. 

In  1882  his  name  began  to  appear  for  United  States 
Senator  to  succeed  Ferry,  but  not  until  he  saw  that 
Ferry  was  losing  did  he  allow  his  name  to  be  used. 
He  won  the  election  and  took  his  seat  as  Senator 
December  3,  1883.  While  in  the  Senate  he  made  one 
of  the  first  speeches  ever  made  in  that  body  in  favor 
of  woman  suffrage.  He  strongly  favored  government 
regulation  of  railroads,  and  originated  the  phrase 
''Equal  rights  to  all,  special  privileges  to  none."  He 
was  one  of  the  few  who  dared  to  take  a  stand  against 
trusts,  and  in  his  speeches  he  sounded  warnings 
against  the  dangers  of  permitting  big  corporations  to 
gain  so  much  power.  He  introduced  a  bill  in  favor  of 
regulations  to  restrict  immigration  and  prepared  an 
exhaustive  and  comprehensive  report  for  its  support. 
He  was  chairman  of  the  committee  on  agriculture,  had 
charge  of  a  bill  creating  the  department  of  agriculture, 
and  had  much  to  do  with  its  passage.  As  a  presiding 
officer  he  had  an  enviable  reputation  for  dignity  and 
neatness  of  dispatch. 

He  was  a  gifted  orator  and  a  still  better  debater. 
His  address  in  Washington  at  the  memorial  exercises 
for  Gen.  John  A.  Logan  is  generally  regarded  as  his 

16  THOMAS   W.    PALMER 

most  finished  oratorical  effort.  On  June  29,  1887,  he 
addressed  the  graduating  class  in  the  University  of 
Michigan,  and  because  of  his  attitude  toward  the 
liquor  question  he  was  severely  criticised  by  papers 
when  his  name  was  again  mentioned  for  political  office 
in  1888.  His  words,  "It  is  better  that  the  strong  should 
want  alcohol  than  that  the  weak  should  be  overcome  by 
it"  were  quoted  and  commented  upon,  but  Mr.  Palmer 
put  a  quietus  on  the  criticisms  by  announcing  that  he 
was  not  a  candidate  for  second  term.  At  this  time 
there  was  a  rumor  that  he  was  to  be  made  Secretary 
of  Agriculture  in  Harrison's  Cabinet,  but  in  spite  of 
Palmer's  enthusiasm  over  agriculture  and  his  work  in 
establishing  that  department,  he  did  not  receive  the 

In  1889,  unsolicited,  Harrison  offered  Palmer  the 
Embassy  to  Spain.  A  grand  farewell  dinner  was  given 
in  his  honor  and  he  sailed  in  April,  accompanied  by  his 
wife,  his  niece  and  heir,  Mary  Roby  Hamilton,  her 
husband  Capt.  Hamilton,  U.  S.  A.,  Mr.  William 
Livingstone,  Jr.,  and  General  Friend  Palmer,  his 

Even  while  in  Spain  he  was  not  allowed  to  rest.  His 
friends  were  ever  urging  him  to  run  for  governor,  and  it 
is  very  probable  that  it  was  his  intention  to  again  enter 
the  gubernatorial  arena  when  he  cut  short  his  stay  in 
Spain,  departing  in  the  early  Spring  of  1890.  On  the 
way  to  America  he  received  news  that  his  niece  Mary 
Roby  Hamilton  had  died.  This,  together  with  the 
death  of  his  brother-in-law  Henry  M.  Roby  before  his 

THOMAS   W.    P  A  L  M  E  R  1  7 

arrival  in  the  city,  so  deeply  affected  Palmer  that  he 
emphatically  declined  to  consider  the  possibility  of  be- 
coming a  candidate  for  Governor  of  Michigan. 

In  June  1890  Harrison  appointed  Palmer  one  of  the 
Commissioners  for  the  World's  Fair  to  be  held  at 
Chicago  in  1893  and  the  board  elected  him  President. 
The  excellent  results  of  his  work  in  this  connection 
speak  volumes  for  his  wonderful  executive  ability  and 
his  tact  in  handling  people.  This  ended  Palmer's 
political  career,  although  there  were  frequent  attempts 
to  draw  him  again  into  the  whirl,  in  1895  and  1899. 

After  the  Fair  he  suffered  from  a  nervous  collapse 
which  necessitated  a  long  rest.  This  was  spent  with 
Mrs.  Palmer  on  Long  Island  Sound  where  they  later 
built  a  beautiful  home  known  as  Larchmont  Manor. 
In  the  fall  of  1895  their  Woodward  avenue  residence 
was  destroyed  by  fire.  Fortunately  many  of  the 
valuable  pictures,  rugs  and  curios  had  been  moved  to 
Larchmont  and  were  preserved.  In  1897  the  Senator 
built  a  handsome  brick  residence  on  the  Log  Cabin 
Farm/ where  he  spent  his  declining  years  until  his 
death  June  1,  1913.  There,  surrounded  by  his  books, 
he  welcomed  his  friends,  annually  entertained  the 
"Old  Boy's  Club,"  and  celebrated  several  of  his  birth- 
days. He  read,  wrote,  learned  to  ride  a  bicycle  and 
indulged  in  his  favorite  hobby  of  farming  and  breeding 
fancy  stock. 

As  no  child  had  ever  entered  the  Palmer  home,  the 
Senator  lavished  his  affection  upon  an  adopted  daugh- 
ter, Grace  Palmer  Rice  and  a  Spanish  boy,  Harold 
Palmer,  to  whom  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Palmer  had  become 

18  THOMAS    W.    PALMER 

deeply  attached  during  his  official  life  to  Spain,  and 
who  became  his  heir. 

His  business  activities  throughout  his  life,  although 
varied,  had  been  almost  uniformily  successful  and  he 
had  amassed  a  large  fortune  before  he  entered  the 
political  arena.  He  always  gave  freely,  both  privately 
and  publicly;  hospitals,  charitable  institutions,  G.  A. 
R.,  Y.  M.  C.  A.  and  the  University  of  Michigan  were 
recipients  of  his  generosity. 

A  lover  of  art,  he  was  one  of  the  founders  of  the  Art 
Museum  of  Detroit,  gave  $15,000  to  start  it  and  was 
its  first  President.  In  1848  he  was  one  of  the  original 
members  of  the  "  Vingt  Club,"  a  society  similar  to  the 
Audubon  Society,  and  in  1877  he  was  one  of  the  found- 
ers of  the  Detroit  Humane  Society. 

During  the  Civil  War  he  was  one  of  the  most  en- 
thusiastic promoters  of  the  Michigan  Soldiers'  Monu- 
ment Association  Upon  its  organization,  in  July 
1861,  he  was  chosen  secretary,  and  served  through 
1885.  The  site  chosen  for  the  monument  was  in  east 
Grand  Circus  Park,  and  the  cornerstone  was  laid  July 
4,  1867.  After  much  consultation  and  in  accordance 
with  the  recommendations  of  Randolph  Rogers,  the 
artist,  it  was  decided  to  locate  the  monument  on  the 
Campus  Martius.  The  cornerstone  was  removed  and 
on  April  9,  1872,  the  monument  was  formally  dedi- 

Mr.  Palmer  was  a  member  of  many  Patriotic  So- 
cieties, of  several  city  clubs,  the  Equal  Suffrage  Club 
of  Michigan  and  the  National  American  Woman's 
Suffrage    Association.     He    was    a    member    of    Zion 

THOMAS   W.    PALMER  19 

Lodge  No.  1  and  an  honorary  member  of  the  Light 

Although  a  Unitarian  and  a  liberal  contributor  to  all 
its  demands,  he  gave  freely  to  the  support  of  other 
religious  institutions.  The  Mary  W.  Palmer  M.  E. 
Memorial  Church  he  erected  as  a  loving  tribute  to  his 
mother,  and  in  his  will  he  left  a  generous  sum  toward 
the  support  of  superannuated  Methodist  Episcopal 

In  acknowledgment  of  several  gifts  to,  and  a  life- 
long interest  in,  Albion  College,  President  Dickie 
conferred  upon  Palmer  as  a  Christmas  gift  in  1904, 
the  honorary  degree  of  Doctor  of  Laws. 

He  was  always  the  first  to  be  called  upon  if  any 
guest  of  honor  was  to  be  entertained.  He  was  a 
popular  toast  master  and  chairman,  and  no  committee 
for  civic  or  patriotic  entertainment  was  complete 
without  him.  He  was  constantly  called  to  preside  at 
some  public  function  and  always  acquitted  himself 
with  brilliancy  and  wit.  An  amusing  story  related  in 
illustration  of  his  resourcefulness  is  as  follows:  In  1887 
upon  the  occasion  of  a  visit  of  a  number  of  Mexican 
government  officials,  Palmer  gave  an  eloquent  address 
of  welcome  in  Spanish.  After  the  speech,  the  Mexicans 
crowded  about  Palmer,  praising  his  Spanish  and  the 
warm  welcome,  and  asking  a  thousand  questions,  de- 
lighted with  the  thought  that  there  was  at  least  one 
person  who  could  understand  their  native  tongue. 
After  a  moment  of  confused  embarrassment.  Palmer 
shook  himself  free  of  the  ardent  Mexicans  and  feigning 
deafness,  beat  a  hastv  retreat. 

20  THOMAS   W,    PALMER 

However  he  was  never  so  happy  as  when  at  his 
Log  Cabin  farm  at  the  five  mile  road  out  Woodward 
avenue  farming  and  playing  the  role  of  "mein  Host." 
This  farm  he  inherited  from  his  mother,  and  by  ad- 
ditions and  improvements  he  had  made  of  it  a  beautiful 
spot.  Here  in  1887,  he  gratified  a  whim  of  Mrs. 
Palmer's  to  live  in  a  real  log  cabin.  Furnished 
throughout  with  handsome  old  mahogany  that  had 
been  in  the  Palmer,  Witherell  and  Merrill  families 
and  equipped  with  every  modern  appliance,  the  log 
cabin  made  a  comfortable  suburban  residence.  At 
"Font  Hill"  as  it  was  first  called,  later  "Log  Cabin 
Farm"  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Palmer  spent  much  of  their  time, 
away  from  the  noise  and  confusion  of  the  city  which 
had  gradually  encroached  upon  their  Woodward  avenue 

In  1895  Mr.  Palmer  presented  the  city  with  one  hun- 
dred and  forty  acres  of  his  beloved  farm  to  be  used  as  a 
pleasure  park  for  the  people  of  the  City  of  Detroit, 
with  only  one  stipulation,  that  none  of  the  virgin 
forest  should  be  wantonly  destroyed.  "Log  Cabin 
Park,"  or  "Palmer  Park"  as  it  is  also  called,  is  one  of 
the  most  beautiful  parks  in  the  city,  second  only  to 
Belle  Isle.  It  is  visited  daily  by  thousands  and  is  a 
beautiful  and  fitting  monument  to  one  of  Detroit's 
most  loyal  and  useful  citizens. 

A  sketch  of  this  great  man  would  not  be  complete 
without  a  few  words  concerning  the  faithful  partner 
of  his  long  and  useful  life,  who  is  now  making  her  home 
at  Larchmont  Manor.  Mrs.  Palmer,  Lizzie  Pitts 
Merrill,    was   the   daughter   of    Charles    Merrill   and 

THOMAS    W.    PALM  E  R  21 

Frances  Pitts.  She  was  always  a  frail,  delicate 
woman,  but  so  far  as  her  health  would  permit  she  took 
a  keen  and  active  interest  in  all  of  Mr.  Palmer's 
affairs.  She  traveled  with  him,  was  with  him  while 
in  Spain  and  was  one  of  the  most  charming  and  popular 
hostesses  during  Mr.   Palmer's  Washington  career. 

Mrs.  Palmer  was  interested  in  the  Humane  Society, 
and  on  July  15,  1901,  gave  the  city  the  "Merrill 
Humane  Fountain"  in  memory  of  her  father.  She 
also  shared  in  the  gift  of  "Log  Cabin  Park"  and  the 
famous  Log  Cabin.  Although  wealthy  in  her  own 
right,  she  was  the  principal  beneficiary  and  residuary 
legatee  in  the  will  of  her  husband. 

Mr.  Palmer's  final  act  of  generosity  is  shown  in  the 
terms  of  his  will,  in  which  he  has  provided  for  a  host 
of  relatives,  apparently  remembering  everyone  in  pro- 
portion to  their  wants,  with  donations  of  money  or 
provisions  for  their  support  by  annuities.  All  of  the 
remainder  of  his  estate  after  these  bequests  were  made, 
he  left  to  his  wife. 


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